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News Brief: Impeachment, COVID-19, NPR Probe: Black People Killed By Police


For the second time in just over a year, Democrats will carry impeachment papers from the House to the Senate today to officially mark the start of the second impeachment trial against Donald Trump.


The single article they will present accuses now former President Trump of inciting the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Tonight will be the ceremonial beginning of a trial that's set to get underway two weeks from now. Speaking to reporters yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stressed that the process must go forward even though Trump already has left office.


CHUCK SCHUMER: Everyone wants to put this awful chapter in American history behind us, but sweeping it under the rug will not bring healing. The only way to bring healing is to actually have real accountability, which this trial affords.

MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell is going to be tracking all the action on Capitol Hill and joins us this morning. Hi, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

MARTIN: So explain the reasoning behind the impeachment timeline. Why start things today only to delay the trial for a couple weeks?

SNELL: This came about because Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell asked for the delay to give Trump's team time to prepare. But he says he also wanted to give the Senate some time to get some business done. You know, people may be familiar because, like you said, we did this just a little bit over a year ago - is that the senators have to sit in their seats in the chamber and basically all other work in the Senate stops once the trial actually begins. And, you know, President Biden backed the idea because he wants his Cabinet in place. He wants...

MARTIN: He backed the idea of the delay.

SNELL: Of the delay, yeah, because he wants there to be time for the Senate to get some things done. There had been a conversation about splitting the day, and that seems to kind of be a political argument at this point. So the idea is that they want to be able to get some Senate business done at the very beginning of this new Congress with this new president before this trial basically takes up all the oxygen in Washington. So they'll transmit the articles of impeachment tonight. The senators will be sworn in as jurors tomorrow and then pretrial briefs will start, and those will be due on the 8, which means that the trial itself can start on the 9.

MARTIN: All right. So Republican senators - many have been voicing a number of objections to the trial itself. Give us a synopsis of those arguments.

SNELL: Yeah. So we're hearing from some, like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who are just outright questioning the constitutionality of holding a trial after Trump has left office. Texas Senator John Cornyn told a local radio station in Houston that he thought the move was vindictive. And here's a little bit of how Florida's Marco Rubio explained it on Fox News yesterday.


MARCO RUBIO: I think the trial is stupid. I think it's counterproductive. We already have a flaming fire in this country, and it's like taking a bunch of gasoline and pouring it on top of the fire.

SNELL: So that's a pretty blunt assessment of what he thinks about this coming up. But, you know, there is a combination of objections. Some are about the process or the trial itself. And, you know, this kind of allows Republicans to go around having to comment on the conduct itself, the actual question of the article of impeachment. But objections are objections, and they give senators a path to explaining a vote for no.

MARTIN: Democrats have a narrow majority, obviously, in the Senate. They're going to need Republican support if they want to convict. How are they responding to their Republican colleagues making these arguments?

SNELL: So on the question of constitutionality, you know, Democrats and a lot of constitutional scholars say it's just allowed, that it could lead to Trump being barred from taking federal office again, which is a separate vote after conviction that they say is necessary. I talked to the lead impeachment manager, Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland, and he's a longtime constitutional scholar. And he told me that impeachment is a constitutional tool that applies to the first day of a presidency and the last day. It doesn't just stop being valid because someone lost an election.

MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Thanks, Kelsey. We appreciate you.

SNELL: Thank you.


MARTIN: All right. It's been just over a year since the U.S. recorded its first case of the coronavirus, and there are still more than 3,000 people dying from it every day in this country.

SNELL: But embedded in that grim number, there are some signs of progress. The number of new cases is declining significantly. About 22 million shots have been given, but that's only about half the total doses that have been distributed across the country. And yet some cities and hospitals say they are running out of vaccine doses.

MARTIN: We've got NPR's Allison Aubrey with us this morning. So, Allison, I don't get this. There - according to what Sarah just said, there should be at least another 20 million doses of the vaccine out there in the country, but vaccination sites say they're running out.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Yeah. OK, so this seems counterintuitive, Rachel, but two things are actually happening at once. So on one hand, manufacturing is accelerating. Pfizer, Moderna have distributed more than 40 million doses. They're scaling up. But more people - many more - are now eligible to get the shot at a time when states are just figuring out how to scale up the vaccination sites, how to get it to people. And some states are just doing better than others, Rachel. I spoke to Dr. Marc Boom. He's CEO of Houston Methodist, part of the Texas Medical Center system. Now they're moving very quickly, using doses as fast as they can receive them, but it's not enough.

MARC BOOM: Each week, we run out waiting for our next shipment. It's really a supply constraint issue. We coordinate across our cities and about doing this as quickly as possible. So we're confident we can do this as a community. It's just a matter of getting more supply more quickly.

AUBREY: So bottom line, at this moment, the vaccines are still a scarce resource and that creates anxiety. It creates confusion, Rachel. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said on NBC yesterday, we need more vaccine, more vaccinators and more vaccination sites. And this takes time.

MARTIN: So if there are these delays or shortages and some people can't get their second doses - right? - at the prescribed intervals, is that OK?

AUBREY: You know, the CDC says the second dose should be administered as close to the recommended interval as possible; that's three weeks for Pfizer, four weeks for Moderna. However, if it's not feasible to adhere to this, the CDC says the second dose can be delayed, administered up to 42 days after the first. So really, there's some wiggle room here.

MARTIN: So this is all just a big, grim reminder that even with the vaccine, it's still going to take a long time before we're anything close to normal in our society again.

AUBREY: That's right. Though new infections are declining, the virus is still circulating widely, and it's important to stay vigilant. I know we've heard that a million times. But look, the more contagious U.K. variant has now been found in more than 20 states, including Michigan. Over the weekend, the University of Michigan athletic department announced an immediate pause in all athletic activities. And remember, Rachel, at this moment, as we speak, only about 5% to 6% of Americans have been vaccinated. Dr. Anthony Fauci says he's looking towards the fall.


ANTHONY FAUCI: If we get the majority of Americans - 70% to 85% - vaccinated by then, we could have a degree of herd immunity that would get us back to normal.

AUBREY: So it's really crucial for people to stay vigilant for the foreseeable future.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, Allison, I got to ask you, the Biden administration is set to impose a South Africa travel ban, given concern about a new variant there.

AUBREY: Yeah. Biden will impose a ban on most non-U.S. citizens entering the country who have been recently in South Africa starting Saturday - Reuters is reporting - and also reimpose an entry ban on nearly all non-U.S. travelers who have been in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland, other countries in Europe given this concern over these contagious variants.

MARTIN: NPR's Allison Aubrey, thank you.

AUBREY: Thank you, Rachel.


MARTIN: Earlier this month, police shot a Black man in Killeen, Texas.

MCCAMMON: And there's something we'd like you to pay attention to about this case, an important detail. The man who was killed, Patrick Lynn Warren, was unarmed when he was fatally shot by an officer. NPR's Investigations team has identified the shooting deaths of 135 unarmed Black people by police over the past five years.

MARTIN: Cheryl W. Thompson of NPR's Investigations unit reviewed thousands of pages of police reports, personnel records, court records that shed light on the cases and the officers involved. And she joins us this morning. Cheryl, thanks for being here. What were some of your key findings?

CHERYL W THOMPSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel. So I found that for at least 15 officers, this was not their first or their last shooting. Some had been involved in anywhere from two to five shootings over the course of their careers, often deadly and without consequences. And, Rachel, I also examined other things, such as how long they had been on the job prior to the deadly shooting. I found about 19 officers were rookies, meaning that they were on the force for less than a year. One cop was on the job for four hours before he killed someone; another, four days. And I also discovered that some of the officers had troubled pasts, including drug use and domestic violence.

MARTIN: So I want to ask about those 15 officers you mentioned. Fifteen officers involved in more than one shooting - how does that happen?

THOMPSON: Well, it happens when - one reason is when officers are allowed to stay on the force after even one shooting and actually stay on the street. Look, Rachel, it's no secret that police officers have a dangerous job, but being involved in a deadly shooting is unusual. I spoke with Peter Scharf. He's a criminology professor at Louisiana State University.

PETER SCHARF: It's rare for police officers involved in any shooting. You know, the vast number of police officers never involved - are never involved in a fatal use of deadly force.

THOMPSON: But I found in one case a Detroit officer involved in five shootings, Rachel; two were on duty, three were off duty. And each time, he was exonerated, including his last shooting in 2017 when he fatally shot an unarmed 19-year-old who had crashed his car into a building and ran. And after that shooting, one of the first people the officer called was his union steward.

MARTIN: So drawing a connection here, the union steward. Does that help explain why it's hard to hold these officers accountable?

THOMPSON: It does, yes. That's one of the reasons police rarely lose their jobs. Those union contracts often shield them from accountability. You'll find, too, Rachel, that it's also tough to prosecute or convict officers involved in on-duty shootings, even if the victim was unarmed. And I also found officers who probably never should have been hired at all.

MARTIN: What do you mean? I mean, was there something that they should have caught, some kind of red flag?

THOMPSON: Yeah, I found one man in a small town in Georgia who was rejected by a police department, but then he went eight miles down the road to another police department and was hired even after admitting on his background questionnaire of being involved in domestic violence, assault, selling or buying drugs and had other red flags.


THOMPSON: Eleven months, Rachel, into the job, he shot and killed an unarmed Black man. And he was charged with manslaughter but found not guilty. Instead, he was found guilty of violating the oath of public office and sentenced to a year in prison. He was released last May after serving seven months.

MARTIN: Cheryl W. Thompson of our Investigations team. Cheryl, thank you.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.